If you listen to the pundits and believe the polls, it would be hard to describe the past few weeks as "smooth sailing" for the Thom Tillis campaign trying to capture the North Carolina US Senate seat up for grabs this election cycle. Tillis has been trailing Kay Hagan by a stubborn three to five percentage points in the RealClearPolitics.com polling average. At the same time, while most national pundits recently started talking about a building Republican wave across the country, those same pundits invariably mention the North Carolina Senate race as the outlier or exception to that trend.
Against that backdrop, the Tillis campaign pulled into a safe harbor at last week’s North Mecklenburg Republican Women's Club annual "Pig Pickin and Politickin" event at the Peninsula Club on Lake Norman. It was a homecoming of sorts for the local politician now shooting for one of the highest elected offices in the land. The NMRW is the official Republican Party outlet here in North Mecklenburg, and Thom Tillis was one of the charter “associate members” when club formed in 2009. He has been a regular guest speaker ever since.
To give you a sense of how much interest there is in this race, organizers turned away television outlets from as far away as Japan. There was extra security on hand and club members were on the lookout for Hagan campaign "trackers" or unwelcome guerilla videographers trying to make their way into the private event - big-time preparations for a group more accustomed to events covering legislative updates and local town issues.
When it came time for Thom Tillis to take the stage you could sense the anticipation in the air. Attendees wanted to see the fire and passion they know exists in the Republican candidate - their candidate. It's a passion and a fight that some see missing from the Tillis campaign commercials airing in recent weeks.
Thom Tillis delivered!
In a speech lasting about 10 minutes, Tillis hit a number of the red meat topics for the roughly 150 party faithful in attendance. He covered immigration by stating "we need to seal the border" - even going as far as saying Ronald Reagan "got it wrong" with his amnesty in the '80s. He criticized President Obama for hiding from the issues with Obamacare by pushing back its implementation dates - ensuring voters get the next round of cancellation notices only after election-day. Turning to foreign affairs, he took a strong stand in taking on the Islamic State (ISIS) and referenced the beheading of a British aid worker earlier that day. Of course, he also pegged Kay Hagan for her part in supporting the President’s handling of all these issues.
When talking about the campaign itself, Tillis did not seem at all concerned. He referenced his own internal polling showing the race knotted at 44% along with the expectation that undecided voters would break his way. His take on the race so far was that he had withstood a massive amount of Democratic spending going all the way back to last November while his team had kept their powder dry until after Labor Day. He said that when asked how he feels about this race, his answer is that he feels the same way he did at this point in 2010 when he was orchestrating a Republican takeover of the legislature. In that election 16 House races were successfully targeted including a number where Democrats were expected to win.
In short, he displayed the confidence of someone who has done this before all across the state, someone who knows his electorate, and someone who understands what is coming over the next few weeks until election-day. If that Thom Tillis comes through in the ads and debates between now and November 4th, the national pundits who have all but written off this contest could very well be in for a big surprise.
Look for this post and others in the Herald Weekly.